Flexible scheduling and educational play give parents leeway

By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Toddlers and preschoolers have another place to go when parents need an hour or two—or more—to run errands, attend a meeting or have date nights. As of Aug. 27, Dino Drop-In childcare center, located on Lone Peak Drive next to The Hungry Moose, is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dino Drop-In’s business model focuses on flexibility for parents and fun education for little ones. The center offers hourly instead of only full- or half-day pricing, which can accommodate the varying needs of parents. The center also offers hourly packages at a discount rate. The goal is to maximize family time while having childcare options available when parents need it.

“I want to offer daycare that fits like a puzzle piece into a [family’s schedule],” owner Jessica Dehn said. “Maybe [parents] just need a couple hours a day, and that should be something that’s available to them, instead of being in a contract where you feel you have to drop off your child because you’re already paying for a whole month of 8 to 5.”

The Big Sky location is the fifth Dino Drop-In to open since Dehn opened the first center in Bozeman in March 2016, and a Belgrade center a year later. In October 2017, the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded Dehn $20,000 after she placed second in the InnovateHER competition, a contest that aims to discover innovative products that empower women and families. Dehn subsequently opened three more centers: another in Bozeman, one in Kennewick, Washington, and now Big Sky.

Dehn said that educational play sets Dino Drop-In apart from other childcare programs. In lieu of TVs or jungle gyms, Dino Drop-In staff tap into children’s interests to teach concepts that prepare them for kindergarten, such as counting.

Lead teacher Kira Oliver, a Big Sky local, heads up the Town Center location. Originally from Missoula, she moved to Bozeman for college before a love of winter drew her to Big Sky. She earned childcare licensing while working at Morningstar Learning Center.

Oliver said business at the Dino Drop-In center has been slow, but she expects things to pick up. She pointed out that the center fills a niche because they accept infants as young as six weeks old, as opposed to the six-month-old minimum of many daycare facilities.

“I sure wish I had this when she was younger,” Oliver said, looking at her 8-month-old daughter, Kali North.

Dino Drop-In also provides parents with an added sense of security in the form of “Dino Cams,” secure cameras that allow parents with children at the center to “make sure we’re doing what we said we’d do,” Dehn said. A special access code ensures that only parents with children at the center can view the classroom.

Currently, Dehn and Oliver are the only staff at the Big Sky center, but Dehn intends to expand the staff as her clientele grows. The only issue is the cost of doing so.

“It won’t be terribly long before we have to adjust [our price] to make up for the difference I pay on staffing,” Dehn said, adding that Dino Drop-In will still be cheaper than nannie services.

Along with intermittent “date nights,” when Dino Drop-In stays open for an evening so parents can go out, Oliver said the center will offer Sunday childcare during ski season to allow parents to stay active on the slopes while their kids are small.

Visit dinodropin.com for more information.